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Saturday, 12 October 2013

Sri Aurobindo and the coming of winter

Yes I'm afraid that it won't be long before the clocks go back and the weather closes in - this is accompanied by the start of my Open University course so I've got a week of John Donne and then the composer John Adams - so a mixed week. Our last visit to the capital was to witness the wonder of the Duckworth-Lewis Method at what will forever be (at least as I'm concerned) the Shepherds Bush Empire. We actually managed to time it for the annual Open House Day which we combined with a visit to the British Museum. Being just down the road we moseyed down Southampton Row and visited the temple to Art Deco that is the United Grand Lodge of Freemasons and then a trip across the road to Lincoln's Inn Fields to the Royal Society of Surgeons and the Hunterian museum with its collection of anatomical unpleasantnesses - the skulls of the syphilis sufferers in particular causing a fist in mouth moment. We tubed it out to Goldhawk Road and did a quick reconnoitre and found the plaque to Sri Aurobindo - Indian nationalist,philosopher, poet and Cambridge graduate. St Stephens Road is not perhaps where you would expect to find an Indian revolutionary but there his plaque was. It marks his residence from 1884-1887. He had been sent to England to get his Indian Civil Service examination which in turn required an English university education - Sri Aurobindo Ghosh went to King's College Cambridge but deliberated sabotaged his Indian Civil Service exam however he found employment through contacts with the Maharajah of Baroda. It was at this point that he became involved in politics and was imprisoned by the british authorities for his writings which endorsed a Gandhist campaign of non-violence. During his imprisonment he experienced a mystical relevation and developed a new method of spiritual practice of Internal Yoga. He founded an ashram near Pondicherry at Auroville which is still in existence - he died in 1950.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Ben Franklin, Jeremey Bentham and the American visitors

Well we managed a weekend to ourselves after visitors large and small - firstly my first cousin Emily and her fella Josh who had spent the previous few weeks doing the Eurail thang - they seemed rather knackered - the sign of a good trip I say but we managed a perfomance of Richard III in St Johns College gardens and a trip to london which coincided with London bike day which made things interesting. Our visitors decied that theyd like so see the London palaces as fortunately the bus dropped us on Park Lane - after a brief pause at the Hard Rock Cafe for Josh to buy a t-shirt for Josh towards Buckingham Palace and across St James's Park where we encountered a Green plaque to Jeremy Bentham the father of utilitarianism of particular interest with regards my reading of Hard Times (Bentham BTW is preserved at University College where he has been taken to College Councils where he is noted to be present but not voting)We wandered down to Westminster Abbey wheer we baulked at the rather hefty £18 entry fee and then detoured down Whitehall which we rather cheekily called half a palace as it was designed originally to be one. We ended up in Trafalgar Square for the obligatory photo shot before heading to Covent Garden via Craven Street and the home of Benjamin Franklin - founding father, author, printer, political theorist,scientist, musician, inventor, statesman, diplomat and all round smartarse. We supped a the wonderful Stamfords bookshop after the required visit to the Tintin shop where a barbecue apron was purchased. Because of the visitors and also our restricted travelwe didnt have a whole lot of time but the peeps seemed happy enough with their London day.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Nadezhda Popova (1921-2013)

While scouting the weeks Obits in The Independent I was struck by Tuesdays column which lists Nadezhda Popova - Garth Ennis recent Battelfields series featured the exploits of the 588th Bomber Regiment albeit in a fictionalised form. Anna Kharkovas falling foul of the political bureaucracy of the then Soviet Union certainly dont seem to have been mirrored by the life of Nadezhda Popovas who retired with rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and having been awarded The hero of the Soviet Union, The Order of Lenin and 3 Orders of the Red Star. She eurvived multiple forced landings and survived 852 missions from mid 1942 to 1945. Initially her all female squadron was given antiquated Po-2 bombers - biplanes fit for the scrapheap. The pilots used to cut their engines and drift in silently to bomb the German forces who nick named them Die Nachthexen (The night witches). They were so successful that three further squadrons were formed. They were however looked down on by their male counterparts and were subject to sexual harrassment and their living conditions were primitive in the extreme - this on top of the dangers of combat. Interesting to note that the (in my experience) extremely chauvinistic Russians embraced females working not only in the military but also in combat - a sign of the kind of desperation that the Great Patriotic War inspired.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Carol Reed (1906-1976)

213 Kings Road is adorned with the blue plaque to the director Carol Reed. He was the illegitimate son of Herbert Beerbohm-Tree, whose blue plaque was also recently spotted close by at the excellently named Rosary Gardens. He was also the the uncle of Oliver Reed (who'd a thought it!) He went to school at Kings Canterbury of which Pat Leigh-Fermor was also an alumnus. He is I guess best known for his work in the late 1940s - My fave being the Third Man most recently seen at the Burg Kino in Vienna. Its post-war amorality - the companion piece to the American Noirs reflects the shattered state of Europe at the time and his broken Vienna and its faded glories show a jaundiced eye. Thats not to say that theres not moments of humour there - the ridiculous joint administration of post-war Vienna giving him a rich vein of comedy. We in addition to the Burg Kino also took the obligatory ride of the Riesenrad that Harry and Holly view the antlike citizens - sadly the Vienna sewer tour was timed such that we couldnt partake which M I suspect wasnt too upset about. There are very few identifiable exteriors in the film - we visitied the Central cemetery and there are also a few fleeting glimpses of church towers but the nightmare shadowed streets are ubiquitous (and I suspect deliberately so - becoming every European city - harry every spiv selling whatever they could get there hands on and nary a thought for the consequences. So another inhabitant of the heart of swinging London - The Kings Road.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Joseph Losey (1909-1984)

The last of our trio of American refugees is Joseph Losey - commemorated in Royal Avenue one of the unfinished Wren works originally meant to lead the eye to the Chelsea hospital. Losey was one of all too many leftists caught up in the HUAC witchhunt in the 50s. He had joined the Communist party in 1946 feeling that being useless in Hollywood, that he had "been cut off from New York activity and I felt that my existence was unjustified. It was a kind of Hollywood guilt that led me into that kind of commitment. And I think that the work that I did on a much freer, more personal and independent basis for the political left in New York, before going to Hollywood, was much more valuable socially." After Howard Hughes took over RKO had instigated a purge of leftists. He left the States unable to work and made a home in London where he made some strangely English films - notably The Servant (1963) and The Go-Between (1971) both collaborations with Harold Pinter and both nuanced, subtle pieces redolent with the hidden, the unobvious. This psychological darkness maybe reflects Losey's exile.It must be quite horrific to be barred from your home country - even voluntarily. His Royal Avenue home is situated just off of the Kings Road - a centre of 60s swinging London - a location that may well have to be revisited in this years Open House London in September. The walk also took in Brompton cemetery - another one of the magnificent seven municipal cemeteries that the Victorians initiated - sadly there was little time to investigate - I did spot Richard Tauber and some truly OTT monumenst to Britains imperial past - sadly however I didnt see Peter Rabbett - or any other of Beatrix Potters inspirations - she herself is memorialised just around the corner - yet another reason to return as I missed the rather picaresque plaque dedicated to her

Monday, 24 June 2013

Ed Murrow (1908-1965)

Sat wating for M to come back from work - she's recently changed job and now does 3 12 hour shifts a week - hard but giving her 4 whole free days per week. Listening to yesterdays Desert Island Discs which featured the wonderful Hugh Laurie Im searching back through my most recent perambulations which ended after Nunhead with a bus and tube ride to Bond Street and then a wandering N of Oxford Street where I came across a bit of bumper blue plaque crop among which was one dedicated to Ed Murrow who lived throughout the war in a flat on Hallam Street. His broadcasts showing a reluctant America the reality of the blitz, he also flew 25 missions over Europe recording what he saw and felt. His broadcasts were bookended by the words " London" and "Good night and good luck" the title of the fictionalisde 2005 movie of his experiences of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, his editorials on CBS (a network he stayed with for the entirity of his career) developed into a regular spot called "See it now" and his criticisms of Senator McCarthy were aired in 1954 and contribued to a nationwide backlash against the Red Scare. I wonder what he would have thought of the current bunch of craven corporate shills masquerading as newsmen? Im not going to explain my stance on journalism, suffice to say that Mr Rupert Murdoch is not welcome in this house. I'm not sure which dismays me more - the journos or the politicians who are reduced to 2 second soundbites who live in fear of the aforementioned journos. I normally watch the 7 o'clock news on Channel 4, I can live with Auntie beeb but perhaps as a result of their status as the national broadcasters they are at least to me a horribly deferential outfit - slavishly lapping up the latest royal goss. Channel 4 at least do bring a little depth to current events.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Ida Aldridge (1807-1867)

In last weeks Independent weekend in one of the horrific quizzes that they run - on the subject of the arts - what TV / film / theatre /music / exhibition has impressed you lately Lenny Henry (last funny somewhere around 1998) picked out Ira Aldridge as his hero. Strangely Id made the trip down to Crystal Palace a couple of weeks before - actaully to do a part of the Green Chain walks that cover SE London from Crystal Palace to Nunhead cemetery. On the Southern edge of Crystal Palace park (given over to a car rally for the day) is Hamlet Road where at No. 5 you'll find an English Heritage plaque erected in 2007. Aldridge was born in 1807 in NYC and was educated at the Manumission society school where he received a classical education. He took his first acting gig in the early 1820s with the African Grove an African-American theatre group where he played both Romeo and Hamlet. He emigrated to England to escape the persistent racism of the States and seems to have been broadly accepted by the European audience, taking on roles - most notably Richard III,Shylock and Othello marrying Margaret Gill and travelling and playing in Ireland, Prussia and Russia. Another forgotten narrative - something that Im enjoying discovering after the last years OU course finding out these little cliche breakers. Not to say that Aldridge didnt face prejudice, his mixed-race marriage seems to have caused a bit of a furore. Crystal palace was deserted the eagles playing at Wenbley that day - plenty of palatial mansions built for the Victorian entrepeneurs hoping to impr4ess at the exposition of which sadly theres not a whole lot left of, the Crystal Palace itself having burned down in 1936.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Southwold and the Battle of Sole Bay

Last weekends Bank Holiday saw us escape to the Suffolk coast. We overnighted at Woodbridge after a visit to Sutton Hoo home for a thousand unknown years of an Anglo-Saxon king buried overlooking the Deben in his boat that have been hauled up. In was (re) discovered in 1939 and is now home to a visitors centre although not surprisingly the hoard of exquisitely worked gold is not kept in rural Suffolk but the British Museum. A shame as the ethereal, otherworldly mounds were of course intended to hold these grave goods. We also visited Wickham Market, my childhood home. As we were so early the village was still asleep although I doubt there would be much of a difference if we visited in the middle of the workday week. It had shrunk in the meantime but is still essentially the same sleepy little place. I suspect that a fair few of the kids who I went to primary school with are still in the area. We then went up the coast to Southwold, a candidate for M's favourite place on the planet. Being out of the way its not a thronged as Great Yarmouth just up the coast. And just the way we like it. The pier is a winner and we had a go at Wack a Banker one of Tim Hunkin's odd creations subverting the end of the pier show. The Adnams brewery is another big draw for the town, and I returned home with a half dozen bottles of Harry Sparrow, sold told me rather grudgingly by a lady who described it as "A bit West Country" - because obviously those West country folk don't know their cider! There is also a small terracotta plaque in town marking the house where James II stayed during the battle of Sole Bay in 1672 - the first naval battle of the Third Anglo-Dutch War. The English and French fleets were caught at anchor by our good freinds the Dutch intend of establishing their nationhood. Funny that we as Brits memorialise our animosity with our gallic cousins forgetting that we are but their basatard offspring (just a lot more interesting with our more varied scani-german-roman-celntic stock). Equally we seem pretty cool with our cheese eating dutch buddies across the water whereas that has not always been the case. Prehaps its a sectarian thing - being drawn together through Protestantism or rather against the Great catholic powers of Europe and lets not forget this is just after the English Civil War and the restoration of the monarchy. In this little remembered fracas its unknown just how many men perished - around 35,000 men were involved in the battle. Bodies were washed up for quite a while - and lets not forget that it wasnt unusual that sailors at this time could not swim. The battle was (as most I guess are) inconclusive - there was (as there usually are) no winners. The Anglo-French fleet was supposed to pen the Dutch navy in its home ports which it failed to do. Holland became established as a world power and like all the powers of that time has faded. Laters.